Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Biting my tongue. In honour of Andrea Blasman

Andrea Blasman

Sometimes it's all I can do to bite my tongue. A couple of nights ago, we were at the Dairy Queen and I noticed a beautiful young girl waiting in line. She was blonde and leggy and strikingly beautiful. Many heads turned as she left with her friends.

I happened to glance outside in time to see her pull a package of cigarettes out of her purse and light up. My opinion of her changed in a heartbeat. It was all I could do to stop myself from running outside and pulling the cigarette out of her mouth. I am passionately anti-smoking. Why? Let me tell you about my friend Andrea.

Andrea was a funny, feisty, talented woman. She had a smile that would light up a room, she was a loyal friend, an amazing mother, a beautiful singer, a talented actor and a dedicated worker. Andrea collected friends like some people collect shoes. She gravitated to the talented and her mix of friends made for lively get-togethers. She was the first one to cheer anyone on, and I don't think she realized how talented she was, she was so busy applauding everyone else's accomplishments.

Andrea was the mother of 4 kids and loved to share their accomplishments with anyone who would listen. She was their biggest fan, their staunchest supporter and their loudest cheerleader in whatever they chose to do.

Three years ago, Andrea was diagnosed with lung cancer. She had started smoking at age 12, but had stopped 12 years prior to her diagnosis. Her husband continued to smoke, even when she was on palliative care and oxygen. Her family and her sister continued to smoke as well.

Andrea fought cancer her way. Upon being diagnosed with cancer, her "theatre friends" rallied around her to have a party that would send her off to treatment with positive love and energy encircling her. Although she was not supposed to, Andrea was quaffing wine at the party, and she quipped that she planned to "drown the tumour", making her body an inhospitable place for it to remain.

She lost ground very quickly. Feisty and determined to the end, she planned her own funeral, and included instructions to her friends to wear bright colours in her honour. She chose her own music and asked some of our friends to sing for her. Included in the funeral was a video from a dream vacation to Hawaii that the family had taken after she had finished Chemo, before they found out that the cancer had spread and was now terminal. Most of it was Andrea's kids, but the last line of it reduced all of us to tears. Andrea always ended phone calls, and often, e-mails with "I love you." The last words of the video were "I love you. bye." in Andrea's voice. In typical Andrea fashion, she had found a way to say goodbye to all of us.

We lost Andrea in 2006. I miss her everyday. I keep tabs on her kids through Facebook, but from a distance. I didn't know them that well, and didn't want to intrude.

When I see young people (or anyone for that matter) smoking, I want to run up and tell them about my friend Andrea. I want to tell them about her smile, her spirit, her courage. I want to tell them about her pride in her kids, her love of dragonflies, music and cats, and I want to tell them about how she looked when I saw her last, bald, jaundiced and shrunken--so changed that I didn't recognize her at first... until she smiled.

Is a cigarette worth your life? Is a cigarette worth your mother's life, your friend's life, your child's life? Is a cigarette worth everything that you could lose?

Let me tell you about my friend.

Me, Akasha and Michele serenading Andrea before she started Chemo, Sept. 2005. She died in May 2006.

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